Catalogue description Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of SIR ALISTER CLAVERING HARDY FRS (1896 - 1985)

This record is held by Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections

Details of NCUACS 5/4/88
Reference: NCUACS 5/4/88
Title: Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of SIR ALISTER CLAVERING HARDY FRS (1896 - 1985)



NCUACS 5/4/88/A.1-NCUACS 5/4/88/A.54 Career, Honours and Awards


NCUACS 5/4/88/A.55, NCUACS 5/4/88/A.56 Autobiography


NCUACS 5/4/88/A.57 Miscellaneous




NCUACS 5/4/88/B.1-NCUACS 5/4/88/B.67 Research Projects


NCUACS 5/4/88/B.68-NCUACS 5/4/88/B.95 Lectures, Publications, Broadcasts


NCUACS 5/4/88/B.96-NCUACS 5/4/88/B.106 Visits and Expeditions


NCUACS 5/4/88/B.107-NCUACS 5/4/88/B.155 Correspondence


NCUACS 5/4/88/B.156-NCUACS 5/4/88/B.167 References and Recommendations




NCUACS 5/4/88/C.1-NCUACS 5/4/88/C.11 Investigations and ideas


NCUACS 5/4/88/C.12-NCUACS 5/4/88/C.65 Lectures, Publications, Broadcasts


NCUACS 5/4/88/C.66-NCUACS 5/4/88/C.90 Religious Experience Research Unit (RERU)


NCUACS 5/4/88/C.91-NCUACS 5/4/88/C.110 Correspondence


NCUACS 5/4/88/C.111 Printed Material






NCUACS 5/4/88/E.1-NCUACS 5/4/88/E.11 Flight and balloons


With an introductory note


NCUACS 5/4/88/E.12-NCUACS 5/4/88/E.23 Northern Cyclist Battalion (NCB)


With an introductory note


NCUACS 5/4/88/E.24-NCUACS 5/4/88/E.27 Drawing and painting


With an introductory note


NCUACS 5/4/88/E.28-NCUACS 5/4/88/E.34 Fiction and poetry


With an introductory note


NCUACS 5/4/88/E.35-NCUACS 5/4/88/E.42 Boxing


With an introductory note




NCUACS 5/4/88/F.1-NCUACS 5/4/88/F.48 Photographs


NCUACS 5/4/88/F.49, NCUACS 5/4/88/F.50 Drawings


NCUACS 5/4/88/F.51-NCUACS 5/4/88/F.54 Tape recordings


NCUACS 5/4/88/F.55, NCUACS 5/4/88/F.56 Films


It must be borne in mind that Hardy and his wife lived to a great age and as they became frailer moved to smaller accommodation with inevitable restrictions on space. Thus while the collection gives a good picture of most aspects of Hardy's many-sided life there are some omissions, such as any records of committee work for his several universities and departments, for government or advisory boards or for learned societies. There are few, albeit interesting, first-hand research records and Hardy's expeditions and travels are under-documented. The surviving correspondence is relatively thin and much must have been discarded. Fortunately Hardy, who was determined to write his autobiography, firmly kept documentation of what he considered key events or those which continued in the forefront of his interest. There is in consequence more material about his early formative years than about the established career, especially the Oxford period.


The papers are presented as shown in the List of Contents. Additional explanatory notes accompany many of the sections, sub-sections and individual entries in the body of the catalogue. The following paragraphs aim only to draw attention to material of particular interest.


Section A (Biographical and autobiographical) documents most of the steps in Hardy's career both in relation to formal appointments and to personal relationships, and includes some applications for or offers of posts not otherwise recorded; the material tails off somewhat after about 1950. There are also the plans, outlines and several draft chapters for the autobiography which Hardy did not live to complete; the extant draft goes up to 1925 and thus includes the crucial 'vow' which Hardy made in his first term at Oxford to try to bring about a reconciliation between evolution theory and the spiritual awareness of man.


Section B (Zoology and marine biology) contains the surviving research material with related publications, lectures and expeditions. It includes Hardy's early plankton research, the development of the plankton indicator and recorder, the ill-fated expedition and shipwreck of 1941 in an attempt to explore plankton as a food resource. Of special interest is the material on the Discovery expedition, with Hardy's preparatory work and sketches and his journals and reports; material on his published account of the voyage, Great Waters, and later correspondence are also included. Other projects are aerial drift, vertical migration and the 'Aquatic man' theory. The correspondence, though generally slight, has more substantial exchanges in the 1920s with Armand Denis whom Hardy met at Naples, and with Sir John Ellerman the reclusive millionaire shipping magnate who supported Hardy's oceanographic work at Hull.


Section C (Religion and the paranormal) supplies another dimension in Hardy's life and work. The material preserved here suggests that rather than being a scientist with a secondary interest in religious matters Hardy was a religious or mystic personality who saw his scientific career as an essential platform from which he could pursue a primary spiritual aim. The introduction to Section C develops and gives some of the evidence for this view.


The material includes records of Hardy's early (1916) and continuing interest in telepathy and thought transference. There is a considerable number of lectures and publications; the best-known are of course the Gifford Lectures, but they are only the most substantial contribution to a steady output right up to 1984 by no means all of which are listed in the published bibliographies. The history of the Religious Experience Research Unit is also documented in some detail through correspondence, minutes and other papers from its founding in 1968 to Hardy's death in 1985.


Section D (Patents, inventions, ideas) is a short section showing the liveliness and ingenuity of Hardy's mind, and also his self-confidence; the first attested patent dates from 1919, and he was still busy inventing devices of various kinds in 1979.


Section E (Other interests) bears more abundant testimony to Hardy's exceptional drive and energy. Some of the 'interests' such as flight and sketching might be termed 'hobbies' though Hardy put them to good use in other areas of his life. His short stories and writings were in part an attempt to externalise some of his philosophical and social preoccupations. The correspondence and other material on boxing, and on the Northern Cyclist Battalion, however, bring out much more sharply some of the factors bearing on his formation and mind. There are fuller notes on all these topics in Section E.


Section F contains photographs, tape recordings and film of most phases in Hardy's career, including his war service, the Discovery and other expeditions, his university departments at Hull and Oxford and some of his marine research. The tape recordings are of his autobiographical Desert Island Discs programme, and expositions of his views on evolution and religion.


The obituary of Hardy published in The Times bore the headline 'Zoologist and religious thinker', and with truth. Yet this leaves out of count one of the most fundamental aspects of his character as shown in his personal papers: an amalgam of philanthropy, idealism, social concern, anger at false values, revulsion from established privilege and artificial barriers. This complex emotion, which Hardy himself found hard to express in other than rather naive terms, was triggered by his sudden contact as an immature 19 year old with the Northumberland and Durham pitmen of the Northern Cyclist Battalion. He felt, as he later explained, intense anger at having been misled by his education and social circumstances into such ignorance of life, and he determined never himself to erect social barriers and to dismantle them wherever he could. His resolution combined with his innate energy and he was as good as his word. The collection abounds in clusters of correspondence from those in subordinate positions whom he never overlooked, never forgot, and never treated as other than a friend. The letters speak directly or by implication of steady exchanges of news, advice, visits, remembrances for birthdays, Christmas, weddings and christenings unto the second and third generation. One has a picture of Hardy making regular safaris often to considerable distances to hospitals, homes and gatherings, arranging reunion meals and meetings, welcoming old acquaintances at his home, and also of wives, children and grandchildren taking up a treasured correspondence when the original recipient was too infirm, or dead. There were shipmates from the George Bligh (A.14) and Discovery (A.16), laboratory staff from Hull (A.23, A.24), Aberdeen (A.39) and Oxford (A.47). There are sparring partners (E.35-E.42). There are touching letters from the widows of the lost crewmen of the Christine Rose (A.33). Most remarkable is the long sequence of letters and other material from the ex-servicemen of the Northern Cyclist Battalion (E.12-E.23) with its repeated testimony to the respect and affection which Hardy inspired in those who kept up the correspondence. While there was undoubtedly some measure of social guilt on Hardy's part, and a degree of artificiality in such a relationship, yet his own directness and simplicity make it impossible to do other than admire his dedication.


Hardy thus emerges as something of a Protean figure yet wholly straightforward in all his activities. It is perhaps significant that he went by an unusual variety of names to suit the circumstances. He did not like his own name Alister which he described as 'sissy', though he used it and was addressed by it in official correspondence and by less close friends. To university employees he was 'Prof' and to their families and children 'Uncle Prof'. To most scientific colleagues he was 'A.C.'. To his father-in-law he was and signed himself 'Ali'. More mysteriously, old friends from Oundle and Plymouth called him 'Glider' and some of his Lowestoft colleagues use 'Clarence'. But to his shipmates and NCB comrades he was always 'Mac', and 'Uncle Mac' to their families, contracted from 'Mac - Alister' a nickname he had been given in 1915 because of the vaguely Scottish origins of his own name. It is uncommon to find someone answering to so many names - one is reminded of David Copperfield - and it adds another strand to the tantalising mixture of complexity and simplicity in Hardy's personality.


Compiled by Jeannine Alton and Peter Harper


The work of the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, and the production of this catalogue, are made possible by the support of the following societies and organisations:


The Biochemical Society


The British Library


The City of Bath


The Geological Society


The Institute of Physics


Pergamon Books


The Royal Society


The Royal Society of Chemistry


Shell UK Ltd


The Society of Chemical Industry




We would like to thank Mr Michael Hardy and Mrs Belinda Farley for making the material available and for their advice and encouragement, and members of the staff of the Department of Western Manuscripts of the Bodleian Library for advice and information.

Date: 1901 - 1985
Related material:

Alister Hardy Research Centre Oxford: watercolours of temples


Fisheries Laboratory Lowestoft: framed photograph of George Bligh and crew; plans, and miscellaneous photographs of Continuous Plankton Recorder


Hull University Library Archives: taped recollections


National Maritime Museum: 26 watercolours and 3 photographs of Discovery expedition


Oxford University Department of Zoology: 42 watercolours


Science Museum London: original Continuous Plankton Recorder


Monks Wood Experimental Station Huntingdon: insect drift material

Held by: Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Hardy, Sir, Alister Clavering, knight, 1896-1985, scientist, zoologist, religious thinker

Physical description: 444 files
Access conditions:








Immediate source of acquisition:

The material was received at various dates July 1986 - February 1988 from Mr Michael Hardy and Mrs Belinda Farley (son and daughter).

  • Zoology
Administrative / biographical background:

Alister Hardy was born in 1896 into a prosperous middle-class family then living in Nottingham where his father was an architect. His mother was from Northumberland; both parents were country lovers and the family regularly spent holidays in Yorkshire in the country or at the sea. When Hardy's father died in 1904 they moved to Harrogate and Hardy embarked on a traditional education pattern at preparatory school (Bramcote, Scarborough 1908-11), public school (Oundle 1911-14) and university (Exeter College Oxford 1914).


Already, however, less conventional elements were present in his love of natural history, cycling, aircraft and sketching. The enforced interruption of the war and his service with the Northern Cyclist Battalion gave him new perspectives and catalysed his thinking on many social, humanitarian and spiritual matters for the rest of his life. He returned to Oxford in 1919, conducted research at the Stazione Zoologica Naples in 1921 and from August of that year took up his first post at the Fisheries Laboratory Lowestoft where he worked on herring drifters and from aircraft as well as in the laboratory in a study of plankton. This became his principal research interest and prompted his devising of recording apparatus leading to the Continuous Plankton Recorder with which his name will always be associated.


In 1924 he was appointed Zoologist on the Discovery expedition to the Antarctic 1925-27. This was another vital formative period, confirming him in his research interest and providing the additional stimuli of new experiences, a degree of physical challenge, camaraderie and a distancing from everyday preoccupations. On his return he enriched his private life by marriage to Sylvia Garstang (December 1927), while professionally he was appointed to a newly created Professorship at Hull with a special interest in marine biology (October 1928). Here he was able to develop a Department of Oceanography and pursue his work on marine and aerial plankton. His award of the Scientific Medal of the Zoological Society (1939) and election to the Royal Society (1940) date from this period.


Hardy moved in 1942 to the Regius Chair at Aberdeen and in 1946 to the Linacre Chair at Oxford where he did much to encourage field researches at the Bureau of Animal Population and the Edward Grey Institute for Field Ornithology. He saw these as a contribution to his aim of fostering the study of ecology - including human ecology - adumbrated in his Inaugural Lecture at Aberdeen 1942 ('Natural history old and new') and developed in his British Association Address 1949 ('Zoology outside the laboratory'). His own work in marine biology continued and his major work The open sea was published in two volumes in the 1950s.


With the Gifford Lectures given at Aberdeen 1963-64 and 1964-65 and their publication as The living stream and The divine flame in 1965 and 1966 Hardy's career moved more strongly towards the study of evolutionary theory, natural theology and the biological basis of religious behaviour. In 1968 he set up the Religious Experience Research Unit at Manchester College Oxford to assemble and analyse religious experiences and most of his later writings were about the work of the Unit and his own beliefs. This aspect of his life work was crowned by the award of the Templeton Prize for 1985 which enabled the work to continue under a fitting change of name as the Alister Hardy Research Centre. Hardy himself, then 89, lived to make preparations and compose his address for the award ceremony, but was not well enough to be present and died a week later, in May 1985.

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